Saturday July 14, 2018
Early Sunday morning, February 26, 2017, eight migrants from Somalia cross into Canada illegally from the United States by walking down this train track into the town of Emerson, Man., where they will seek asylum at Canada Border Services Agency. The Manitoba and federal governments have been unable to resolve a dispute over refugee funding because they cannot agree on how many claimants walking across the U.S. border stay in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
"As a country, we need to look beyond the hateful sentiments of some of our politicians and see the ‘crisis’ for what it is: ephemeral. Far from being a permanent phenomenon, the tide of asylum seekers is similar to a natural disaster — an acute circumstance that is as disruptive as it is short-lived."
The march of asylum seekers across the Canadian border continues apace.
In 2017, the Canadian Border Security Agency processed 11,400 asylum claimants at the country’s land ports of entry, a more than 170-per-cent increase over 2011, according to statistics from the federal government. The largest percentage of claimants hail from Haiti, with Nigerians a distant second. Surprisingly, 2,550 American citizens also sought refugee status in this country in 2017—a 545-per-cent increase over 2016. Taken together, these numbers speak to the politicization of race and immigration, as practiced by Donald Trump’s toxic mouth.
And many of our politicians are more than willing to play along. Lisa MacLeod, the Ontario government’s newly-ensconced Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, has spent much of her first two weeks in office triangulating her nativist anger against the “illegal border crossers” and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the supposed enabler of all this illegal activity. “Illegal border crossers are not following [the] rules, and the federal government is not enforcing them,” MacLeod bellowed recently.
Not to explain her job to her, but surely MacLeod is aware of Canada’s commitment to the U.N. Refugee Convention, in effect for 67 years, recognizing that anyone can make a refugee claim should they have a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.” Further, the Minister must be aware that making such claims “can require refugees to breach immigration rules,” as the Convention states.
Finally, the Minister realizes that the vast majority of those crossing the border illegally to make a legal refugee claim are compelled to do so because of the Safe Third Country Agreement, a Harper-era Conservative measure designed to prevent asylum seekers from applying for refugee status in both countries. Attempting to cross into Canada at a regular border crossing would see the modern-day refugee claimant deported back to the States—from where he or she is attempting to flee in the first place.
In fairness to the minister, it takes two paragraphs and 164 words to explain the details and conundrums of Canada’s immigration and refugee policy. It also requires a modicum of good faith, something that is in short supply when one is politicking on the backs of asylum seekers.
Besides, she isn’t alone. Doug Ford, her boss, is just as outraged (and as clueless) as MacLeod as to the asylum seekers in Ontario. Ditto Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée, who suggested the federal government build a wall across Roxham Road, where a large number of asylum seekers have crossed.
Cynical and wrong-headed, this sort of rhetoric is also utilitarian. It exploits for political gain voters’ understandable fears surrounding asylum. In not mentioning the reason behind the diabetic spike in refugee claimants, MacLeod et al. perpetuate the idea that largescale migration over the border is somehow a permanent burden—a direct result of our multiculturalist overindulgences as a country.
You need look only at Europe to see the folly in this argument. 2015 was the year of the ‘migrant crisis’, in which Greece, Italy and Germany alone took in as many as 1.75 million migrants by land and sea, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees. This vast movement of humanity stoked nativist pangs in these countries along with Hungary, Spain, Poland and elsewhere. It was arguably one of the driving forces behind the Brexit vote ruling the day.
And yet three years later, the flow of migrants has largely returned to pre-2015 normality. The reason is simple enough: people have less a reason to flee their homes. Stripped of the politics, it’s a reminder how people don’t generally uproot their lives unless they are fleeing bombs or persecution.
As a country, we need to look beyond the hateful sentiments of some of our politicians and see the ‘crisis’ for what it is: ephemeral. Far from being a permanent phenomenon, the tide of asylum seekers is similar to a natural disaster—an acute circumstance that is as disruptive as it is short-lived. People will cease fleeing America when the threat of persecution abates. How long that threat exists depends entirely on the will of American voters.
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